Those in need might be hesitant to reach out for help, but one community coalition is aiming to provide assistance to people who are struggling, no matter the circumstance.
Oak Park Mutual Aid, an informal organization created to face down the local impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, connects Oak Parkers and residents of neighboring communities in gathering and dispensing donations to individuals and families.
Patty and Ken Hunt, long-time Oak Parkers, were among the early participants.
“I just got some random email back in the beginning of March about Mutual Aid in Oak Park,” said Patty Hunt. “The group formed around the time when the pandemic was closing everything. We set up a GoFundMe with a goal of $10,000. After achieving that goal, we raised it to $50,000.”
The goal of Oak Park Mutual Aid is to provide immediate assistance to whoever is in need. After assistance is initially provided, then if further help is needed, individuals are referred to an organization that can provide additional help to sustain them.
The ultimate goal of the group is to mitigate the pandemic’s direct impact on local people whether they’re struggling because of a lack of food or their financial situation, it doesn’t matter, they can reach out to receive help.
“The most unique part about the whole thing is that there aren’t any requirements,” Hunt said. “If you need help, they will help you.”
So far, the group has raised more than $19,000 and distributed over $16,000 in limited financial, food, personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies and medication assistance.
The group has also distributed 317 healthy food packages and helped more than 160 families and individuals in and around Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park.
“We are looking to raise more money and find more volunteers to continue our work,” said Patty Hunt.
With the onslaught of people who might need help due to the end of the federal government’s $600 weekly unemployment payment boost, members of the group are in need more than ever of volunteers and donations.
“We have raised the goal of our GoFundMe in case people need more assistance if pandemic unemployment payments are not continued,” she said.
“Some people have had repeated requests,” she said. “We try to limit the help to someone to once a month so we can offer assistance to as many people as we can.”
She said they mostly hear from families and seniors. Even if someone has limited transportation, the group makes arrangements to deliver food to people on Saturdays.
Gregory Schalliol, volunteer at Oak Park Mutual Aid, is doing his part to make sure he contributes to helping those who need it the most.
“It’s been going in spurts,” Schalliol said. “There was a lot of energy in the group when things first started to get going back in April. Then it slowed down and then it got going again.”
The organization has been able to establish a core group but they didn’t realize how much work it would be, he said.
“We tend to find and focus on people who can’t receive complete food security from just going to food pantries or for those who don’t qualify for unemployment assistance,” Schalliol said. “That’s the niche we are trying to fill.”
It’s an ongoing effort to ensure that no one goes hungry or lacks other basic necessities.
“We just recently rekicked off our fundraising campaign and we are going to kick off our voluntary recruitment campaign,” Schalliol said.
He said that people can reach out for help and the Oak Park Mutual Aid will try to assist them.
“We are just trying to figure out the best way we can help everyone,” Schalliol said.
At the moment, what’s needed most, are volunteers and donations. You can donate to the GoFundMe or you can volunteer.